The message of the DTF is clear, says PETER CRAWLEY
ONE LONG-STANDING double bluff between the theatre and its audience is that, once it begins, anything can happen. That’s partly the thrill: the frisson of danger. But while we comfortably agree to leave our comfort zones, witnessing emotional extremes, considering unpalatable ideas, or questioning our political convictions, we leave secure in the knowledge that neither actors nor animals have been harmed during the performance, no health and safety regulations have been breached and we go home unchanged. The theatre is only as dangerous as we allow it to be – as long as all traces of asbestos have been removed.
That makes the Dublin Theatre Festival show from Anu Productions, The Boys of Foley Street, seem all the more remarkable. Just glancing at its universally positive reviews you get the impression that it may have gone too far: “deeply unsettling”, “terrifying”, “This feels unbelievably dangerous”. That, however, is how the immensely considered director Louise Lowe makes her meaning.
An immersive production that sends you out onto neglected and fitfully regenerated streets, it feels dangerous, not just because you encounter people you’d ordinarily avoid (yes, it cunningly exposes your prejudices too) or because you routinely become a witness and even a party to acts of degradation and cruelty, but because we feel genuinely abandoned.
There is no safety rail to this performance. No conspicuous stage manager. No sense of authority at all. And that’s the point. Lowe’s frenetic document of a decade in the north inner city suggests that a community has been discarded, left vulnerable, forced to figure things out for itself. Lowe doesn’t tell you this. She makes you feel it.
It is not the only show at this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival where you will find a deep suspicion of authority. Brokentalkers’ Have I No Mouth tells an acutely personal story, putting performer Feidlim Cannon onstage with his mother and their psychotherapist to tease out the aftermath of two tragedies: the death of his youngest brother shortly after birth and the fatal misdiagnosis of his father. Its most extraordinary sequences have Cannon railing against his father, his therapist, or dispassionately describing a revenge fantasy against an imagined surgeon.
In a country already suspicious of leaders and distrustful of institutions, it’s not a difficult message to decode. Elsewhere, Maeve Brennan questions the motives of her editor in Talk of the Town; Dylan Tighe’s provocative Record interrogates mental illness and its treatment; and experimental versions of Hamlet and King Lear rekindle archetypal “daddy issues”. All authority figures seem suspect.
You can’t even believe what you read anymore. At least that’s one interpretation of so many literary adaptations at this year’s festival, not least Corn Exchange’s Dubliners and Elevator Repair Service’s filleting of Hemingway in The Select (The Sun Also Rises).
The Company’s Politik may say it obliquely, in a seemingly shapeless gathering between audience and performers, but as the audience realises this ship may not have a captain and they can put their hands on the wheel, the show could speak for the healthy distrust of this year’s festival. Nobody else will do it for you. It’s time to take control.